Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Bar Council -College Of Law LLM: No physical presence raises tax, MIDA issues; Australia's Lawyers Weekly 2006 story raised issues about lack of reality in the College's basic PLT.

by Ganesh Sahathevan

As previously reported the College Of Law's lack of a physical presence in Malaysia leaves Malaysian customers of the College's "practical LLM" exposed to a number of financial risks.

That the College have a physical presence in Malaysia via a locally incorporated company seems to be a requirement of the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA) but as reported,it only has a virtual presence. MIDA does not appear to have any provision for offering courses in Malaysia on-line from a foreign base, in collaboration with a local party, in this case the Bar Council Malaysia.

The foreign base also raises tax issues;there are questions about who exactly will pay the income taxes on the revenue generated from this practical LLM venture. All this must be novel to the Bar Council which has not, to date, been a provider of degree courses.

The College Of Law Asia Pacific's Director Peter Tritt has maintained his silence. Others involved in the course include College Of Law CEO Neville Carter, Head Of PLT OnLine Anthony Jackson and the Members Of The Academic Board led by Lewis Patrick.

Meanwhile, as readers can see from the story below, even the basic PLT course had to be trimmed to a bare minimum in order for it to fit into the on-line format.

The following excerpt from the 2006 story below from Lawyers Weekly quotes then director of program development at the College of Law, Katherine Mulcahy:

The college completely redesigned to a web-based program. Sometimes things take people longer to do online, so we tried to simplify tasks,says Mulcahy. We wanted to retain the very practical nature of the training but tried to strip out all but the key steps.

One does expect the Practical Masters tobe a much more complex course. How the online system, which is not reliable even within Sydney, is going to cope catering to students from Malaysia is difficult to understand but we do hope that Mr Tritt and his colleagues will provide us answers.

Degrees of Practicality

To differentiate themselves, practical legal training providers are focusing on theoretical catchphrases. But with training competencies now standardised, students can get a more uniform qualification than ever before. Deborah Hodgson reports

Online and practical may sound like a contradiction in terms, but online practical legal training has been one of the most dramatic developments in training graduates for admission in the last decade.

Online training is still a minor option for some providers, and even online students must turn up for on-campus intensive training. But as location becomes less than top priority for students choosing a practical legal training (PLT) institution, more and more competition has providers grappling with the challenge of making the classroom experience as hands on as they can, without actually putting the student in the hot seat of the law firm itself.

Making it as practical as possible is the big challenge, says Katherine Mulcahy, director of program development at the College of Law, where the majority of students study online. The whole idea for the last 25 years of PLT was to simulate what happened at the workplace.Students typically followed the instructions of clients all the way through to the end of a file, interacting with other students on the other side of the matter.

When the early version of online learning came in the form of CD Rom, The College of Law took the face-to-face course and simply replicated it online  students still competed against each other, albeit by email.

But by 2002 the College had become aware of difficulties with the technique. The students, as students will do, sometimes got frustrated with each other, waiting on tasks that the other hadn't performed on time. It's difficult to control that in the online environment, says Mulcahy. And the sheer quantity of work for lecturers and students made it untenable.

The college completely redesigned to a web-based program. Sometimes things take people longer to do online, so we tried to simplify tasks,says Mulcahy. We wanted to retain the very practical nature of the training but tried to strip out all but the key steps.

Simpler is not always better

The Melbourne-based Leo Cussen Institute has gone the other way, focusing more on detailed classroom-based training rather than online simplified tasks. The Institute follows the traditional interactive method, which it calls the transactional mode. Students are required to complete 31 weeks of class-based training, compared to the College's 15 weeks, and only 3 weeks of professional placement, as opposed to the College's 15.

We find that works very well, says Elizabeth Loftus, executive director of Leo Cussen. We have 31 weeks on campus so we can incorporate more content. Ours is a method of constant assessment, of students running their hypothetical firm, applying their learning in a practical context under supervision. The shorter courses perhaps dont have the luxury of doing the transactional work. Time is against them.

Teaching daily reflection

The ANUs Legal Workshop favours the reflective practitioner� approach, developed from the teachings of the instructional theorist Donald Schon, who popularised artistry as opposed to technical knowledge in developing professional excellence. We try and duplicate the manner in which students will learn to reflect daily on how successfully they are using legal skills, how ethically they are operating, and how effectively they are getting services to clients, says Tony Foley, associate director of the Workshop. We sum it up in the phrase, better to be a guide on the side, not the sage on a stage.

Legal Workshop's professional placement (a wide range of options from 20 to 80 days) is conducted parallel to an online program, where students participate in a group discussion on ethics, time management and other issues coming out of the practice experience.  Our students really like the opportunity to talk online about things that are happening in their placement, says Foley.  think the market is well served by providers that have different emphases.

Other providers offer variations on the instructional theory theme. But the actual skills lawyers-to-be will graduate with should be more similar than ever. Since 2002, all PLT providers must comply with competency standards. That ensures students have lawyerly skills like problem solving and business management as well as experience in core practice areas like civil litigation and commercial law.

Fashionable specialisations not always employable

What students want their studies to concentrate on changes with fashion. Students often say they want to study intellectual property, or see commercial law as the preferred focus of their course. But providers try not to let that, or the preferences of law firms, affect the subjects they teach. You can't. Students might have wanted to study human rights, but the availability of jobs in that area is very limited. We have a broader obligation to the students, to get a wider range of training,says Leo Cussen's Loftus.

Indeed, with the competition for clients, today�s students have growing needs for training in more than the law. �In the future they�ll need to master, in a more methodical sense, skills like management, marketing, customer service and internal communication skills,� says Loftus.

�There would still be a question mark over at what point in their career they would want to tackle those skills, as they do require actually being in the practice to some extent. But in future we would at least expose them to the students during PLT.�

Internship system probably a �bureaucratic nightmare�

Students can be hard to please. �An internship programme run by the universities would be far more �practical�,� says one young lawyer to be in the middle of his training. But the providers are used to hearing that.

�No doubt some top quality training takes place on the job in law firms,� says The College of Law�s Mulcahy. �But that can vary considerably. It�s very difficult to assure the quality of training if it is taking place in diverse workplaces.�

Students can be exploited as extra labour without any emphasis on training. And, as training providers found in the United Kingdom, where students completed professional placement over two full years, the necessary systems of approval and records can prove an expensive bureaucratic nightmare for employers.

�If the system is difficult for employers to administer, it won�t do. Already in Australia, Victoria in particular, there is a shortage of employers willing to take placements,� says Mulcahy. �Like any course, you will always get students saying they didn�t learn anything. But in the end, we�re preparing people for the beginning of their career. They will hopefully continue to learn.�

What students get out of PLT is not all tangible either. Part of the time at training is necessary, says Leo Cussen�s Loftus, to gain perspective on the world the student is about to enter. �I would advise students during their time here to, above all, be observant. Look around you at what�s happening around you in the world.

�You can�t operate with your client in a vacuum; you need to know their industry.�

If PLT can offer the chance to cement that habit, so much the better.

25 May 2006

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